Inclusive futures: Reskilling workers in the age of automation

Inclusive futures: Reskilling workers in the age of automation

In collaboration with Accenture


In the coming years, millions of workers will see their jobs change as a result of artificial intelligence technologies. This fall, Amazon will open its second cashier-less store in downtown Seattle, providing a powerful visual demonstration of the economic change being created by smart technology. Administrative assistants are already the fastest-declining occupation in Canada, and AI-based assistants will accelerate their disappearance. The same goes for call centre workers as chat bots take over more of their duties.

AI will create new jobs, but these positions will demand different skills from those that have vanished, and the ability to seize these new opportunities won’t be evenly distributed among the workforce. People in marginalized groups face some of the biggest challenges in adapting, as these workers are most likely to lack the awareness, opportunity or means to change careers.

There is, therefore, an urgent need to help these workers reskill for the new economy.

Reimagining workforce development

Accenture researchers summarized the support these vulnerable populations will need in a recently released report, New Skills Now: Inclusion in the Digital Economy.

The report calls for particular attention to be paid to vulnerable groups, with help to pivot workers toward automation-resilient jobs in high-growth occupations. It also highlights the need for a broad approach that not only provides technical retraining to low- and middle-skilled workers but also equips them with the soft skills and mindsets to be successful in the long term.

It identifies six categories of skills that workers will need to succeed in the new digital age:

  • Learn to earn: Foundational skills needed to be workforce-ready, such as digital literacy
  • Build tech know-how: Skills to use, manipulate and create technologies and data
  • Apply “We’Q”: Skills to interact, build relationships and show the self-awareness needed to work effectively with others, in-person and virtually
  • Create and solve: Skills for creative problem-solving, using empathy, logic and novel thinking
  • Cultivate a growth mindset: Attitude of staying relevant, continuously learning and growing, and adapting to change
  • Specialize for work: Relevant specialized skills to address local market priorities and industry-specific needs, skills in this family are not static and will need to continuously change based on context, industry, market demand and type of work

What should companies include in their development programs?

The following three program design principles are essential for tackling the new challenges of the digital age:

  • Innovative program design: Faster, larger-scale and creative approaches are a priority; using project-based learning is key; and programs must involve practice spaces over time to create memorable mental models
  • Durable learning: Skills can’t just be adaptive, they must also stick; programs must be relevant, engaging, provide a bigger picture context, be challenging, reflective for the learner, promote socialization, be practiced routinely and distributed slowly
  • Continuous evolution: 65% of workforce development practitioners believe staying ahead of market skill demand results in higher placement rates; successful learning and workforce development programs embed robust monitoring and evaluation systems to ensure interventions remain relevant and effective over time

Companies and workers must act collaboratively to develop new ways to teach and learn for a more inclusive future. Companies that embrace the three factors above into their workforce programs can drive a culture where every member of society is prepared and can participate in the digital economy.

There’s much to be done in navigating the changing world of work. Responsibility lies with employers and employees to move toward automation-resilient jobs. We all need to champion the change and contribute to the future workforce.